By Pete Zamplas
Mills River – State Senate challenger Brian Caskey calls for expanded Medicaid in North Carolina, as he takes on Sen. Chuck Edwards.
Caskey, 49, is Mills River’s second-in-command as its mayor pro tem. (Chae Davis is mayor.) Caskey is the Town Council’s sole Democrat. In 2017, he became the first Democrat ever elected to the five-member board. He points to his working with Republicans, and their choosing him as mayor pro tem last December.
Yet he blasted Republicans in the State Legislature, as he swung a verbal ax at them and Edwards during such candidate forums as Thursday, Sept. 10. That was a Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce-sponsored virtual forum, for several races. N.C. Senate District 48 consists of Henderson and Transylvania counties, and southern Buncombe.
“N.C. suffers from both a failure of leadership and vision in the General Assembly,” Caskey said, attacking at the onset of the Brevard forum. “Chuck Edwards is the biggest failed leader in the Senate. He has consistently failed to vote for policies that would create an economy that would work for all North Carolinians.”
Caskey then zeroed in on Medicaid, which is health insurance for poorer people. “Chuck Edwards has refused to expand Medicaid. He says it’s to save money. When the real reason is that he’s being paid off by dark money and special interests. Like the PAC donations that he receives from the insurance industry.”
He later called Edwards an “anti-masker” overeager to reopen businesses who “puts people’s health at risk every time he holds a public event, and every time he walks over and breathes into someone’s face.”
Edwards shook his head in disgust at such attacks. In an interview earlier with The Tribune, Edwards cited many “false narratives and blatant hostilities by my opponent and his supporters” online and in person.
Medicaid ‘No Brainer’
Medicaid expansion is a “top priority” and “no brainer” that can help nearly 900,000 in the state, Caskey said in the forum. He said 90 percent would be federally funded, leaving the state to pay a “ten percent match — which would be made up by other working people.”
Caskey told The Tribune that Medicaid is more important than ever due to the “COVID-19 crisis.” Showing the virus spans generations, he said his neighbor — a man in his 40s — was “on a ventilator for a week” in early April due to the virus.
He said it is critical for “people believing scientific data, and taking scientists’ advice” for precautions and not “herd immunity.” He said this state’s remaining restrictions should continue until COVID vaccines and testing are widely available, and then the positive-test “curve flattens.”
Caskey called for “making community college free” in the state.
On dealing with state budget shortfalls, Caskey spoke not of spending restraint or cuts but on reshaping taxation. He criticized the ending of the earned income state tax credit, and GOP-led legislators cutting the business tax rate from 6.9 to 2.5 percent. He claims “they’ve [Republicans] also raised the taxes on the bottom 40 percent of North Carolinians.”
Caskey added, “In Mills River, on my motion, we cut the property tax rate. We paid off the loan for the town hall facility, which will save the taxpayers over $754,000. And we established a fund balance policy, for the first time in town history.”
He is proud to work with Republicans on Council. “You have to drop the red hat/blue hat stuff, and get to work on problems…We work until it’s solved.”
He told The Tribune on farmers’ behalf he pleads for a “path toward citizenship” for illegal immigrants since many work for area larger farms.
In the forum, he said extending infrastructure is a key to “attract businesses. Amazon never would have come to Mills River, if it wasn’t for our commitment to roll out fiber-optic Internet to the entire (22.5 square miles of) town…within the next three years…We are investing in them, the same way that we want those businesses to invest in us.”
Education is a priority issue for Caskey and reflects his expertise. Brian and Stacey Caskey run Biltmore Tutoring and Test Prep, which employs 17 tutors (many are retired instructors) and services 600-800 clients a year in K-12 or college. They instruct remotely now, via Zoom. He said the typical client gets 24-28 hours of “target tutoring,” such as preparing for the college SAT exam. His diagnostic testing indicates academic strengths and weaknesses and then tutoring shores up the pupil’s weak areas.
Brian Caskey has a master’s degree in liberal arts from UNC-Wilmington, and a biology degree. He grew up in central Florida and moved here in 1997. The Caskeys have two children.
Caskey tutors history. He compares ongoing civil rights protests to those in the late Sixties, when youths were “pushing civil rights, and demanding their voices be heard. They couldn’t trust their government.”
Self-proclaimed “conservation activist” Caskey represents Mills River on the Conserving Carolina Advisory Committee. In the forum, he criticized the state GOP for leaving it to the EPA to get tough enough with “corporate polluter” Duke Energy. Duke last year removed its toxic coal ash (from burning coal to make electricity) sludge that leaked into the Dan River in 2014.
Caskey closed calling for N.C. to “invest in education and good jobs, and health care, and expanding broadband Internet to all. I’ve already done so many of these things in Mills River.”
For more on his campaign, check briancaskey.com or “Brian Caskey for NC Senate” on Facebook.